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Four or five years old, but they were guilty
so the warders put the hose on them, ice-cold
to numb them, make them easier to hold,
then stitched them into cotton sacks
that bagged them shin to shoulder,
made them into cartoon sacks with little heads and feet.
I was there, you understand, purely as assistant
to the Henker. Down the wee kids came, a chute
delivered them to where I stood.
I picked them up, took hold of them
through soaking cotton,
they were hardly any weight at all.
The Henker waited on a ladder right beside the noose.
The noose hung at the near end of a metal bar.
At the other end the bar was hinged;
the near end, where the noose was hung, sat
in a metal catch and when the Henker
slipped the catch the noose end of the bar would drop
six inches till a chain, a keeper, stopped it with a jolt.
It took no effort, slip the catch, the bar would drop,
as easy and as quick as you would flush the loo.
I passed the next child up,
the Henker grabbed the sack and laid the noose
around the skinny neck. He slipped the catch,
the child was dropped, the drop was hardly anything
but still enough to throw that snap
into the living spine. Death,
they say, comes almost instantly,
but note that `almost', note
the Henker's not a patient man.
As far as he's concerned it's over in a moment:
the Henker takes the child's weight in one hand
and with the other frees the noose.
He throws the child aside and I hold out the next.
That's over in a moment too, and then the next,
and then the next, until I wake, and can't forget.
The poem on the left is a record of a nightmare. My main piece of work at the end of the academic year 2001-2002 was an installation using the poem. Together with Graeme McQuillan I made a gallows, and bolted this to the wall. Below it hung three of the sacks mentioned in the poem.
Installation for 'The Children'
Other pieces were nearby; 'nest', an inorganic nest made of recycled mahogany, lined with shredded paper in unnatural colours, and holding two short 'nihonto'-styled blades. A series of photographs was also displayed, Vulva I to III. Vulva II is shown here.
Vulva I & Vulva III can be seen in Blades and Figures